Thursday, March 19, 1998
Residents still have questions
Risk assessment highly technical

BY JOHN HOPKINS
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Fernald announcement
Lisa Crawford of FRESH, left, and Betty McKay, an area resident, listen to a report on the CDC findings.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |

About 40,000 to 53,000 people lived in the immediate area of the former Fernald uranium processing plant between 1951 and 1988 - the plant's operating years.

A handful of those residents were among about 90 people who showed up Wednesday to hear representatives from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) present draft findings on the health risk of the plant.

And perhaps even fewer residents - at the meeting or back in the communities surrounding Fernald - will understand the highly technical risk assessment by CDC, said Lisa Crawford, president of Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health (FRESH). ''Interpreting it and understanding it is the hard part for us,'' she said. ''My challenge to CDC is to put it in a way that I can understand it.''

Becky Robinson's father was diagnosed last year with cancer. He lived in nearby Ross for three or four years.

From kindergarten to the 11th grade, Ms. Robinson lived near the plant and her mother still works there after 20 years. Her sister and several aunts also work there, she said. She now wonders if she will be able to explain the CDC's risk assessment to family back home.

''I don't think they'll understand it,'' she said after the meeting. ''I don't think it's (the report) an accurate guess. They're guessing.''

The purpose of the study is to evaluate Fernald's effect on the health of those people who live in communities surrounding the facility, an area within a 6.2-mile radius of the plant.

Gene Branham, a member of the Fernald Subcommittee and a worker at Fernald for 46 years, was dismayed that the study failed to include the actual risk to workers at the plant.

''This is a residents study and it excludes - and I want to be very emphatic about this - it excludes the workers. Over the years, there have been thousands of workers at Fernald,'' he said.

Edwa Yocum, a resident, understands the difficult task CDC will ultimately have in educating the public about the study. It took her years to understand, she said.

''I've been in this for 14 years and I have learned something new every time CDC brings out a new report,'' she said. ''I understand where they're coming from, but it took self-education and a couple of years to understand their formula. But we do try to tell CDC to put it in a form that the average resident or citizen can understand.'' Compared with the population size, the number of potential at-risk residents was low. Nonetheless, it adds to the general feeling that Fernald was a serious risk for many years.

''I was glad to hear about it, that there was an increase (above the normal number) of cancer cases for the area,'' said Ms. Crawford. ''This proves what we've been trying to show in the area - that there are health concerns here and that the DOE (Department of Energy) has to be accountable for their actions.'' Death rates within 10K of Fernald
A Fernald health chronology